Republicans are jumping on the leak, as expected, because transparency scares the bejeezus out of the Right. Rep. Pete Hoekstra using hyperbole to say what allies might ask, “‘Can the United States be trusted? Can the United States keep a secret?’”
Americans have grown accustomed to being kept in a state of permanent stupid on foreign policy. That’s how Iraq happened, but it’s also how dangerous moves in the Middle East towards Iran can be sanctioned through a simple sound bite.
Few news organizations bother to cover the Mideast, which is one reason I hailed Al Jazeera English when it came available in the Beltway area some time ago. Years of covering Israel without any way objectivity, along with Iran, has left Americans with a stilted view of American foreign policy. What’s worse is that the collective American ignorance about other countries and our involvement in their inner workings has given neoconservatives and traditional hawks the playing field, because our foreign policy is always presented as militaristic movements being strong, diplomacy is weak. When you have people like Rep. Eric Cantor making religious based Middle East foreign policy pronouncements, as well as people like Sen. Jon Kyl inventing the Cold War 2.0, circa 21st century, it shows just how vulnerable our foreign policy is to tilts in presidential domestic power, especially when Democrats don’t fight on their own ground.
Unclassified and not marked secret, 251,287 cables were provided to The Times by “an intermediary on the condition of anonymity.” Below are some stand out elements of what was released, with a fascinating look into Saudi King Abdullah’s advice to Pres. Obama equally interesting. However, the first standout element of the documents take us to Israeli and Saudi worries about Iran, but also fuller information about the Iranians long-range missile capacity.
There was little surprising in Mr. Barak’s implicit threat that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. As a pressure tactic, Israeli officials have been setting such deadlines, and extending them, for years. But six months later it was an Arab leader, the king of Bahrain, who provides the base for the American Fifth Fleet, telling the Americans that the Iranian nuclear program “must be stopped,” according to another cable. “The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,” he said.
His plea was shared by many of America’s Arab allies, including the powerful King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to “cut off the head of the snake” while there was still time.
… The cables also contain a fresh American intelligence assessment of Iran’s missile program. They reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles.
The Right is making a lot of ruckus about the Saudi comments while pointing fingers at Arabists utilizing the See Even Saudi Arabia Wants To Strike Iran. The Right’s anti Arabist sentiment is what scuttled Chas Freeman’s possible appointment. However, the Shia v. Sunni dynamic has been an amped up challenge ever since Pres. Bush let the neoconservatives run things, which began with the disastrous preemptive attack on Iran that altered the balance of power in the region. With shifts in Lebanon, the Shia state rising has as its most important godfathers George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, intended or not, something that has been forgotten. But the dynamics being used right now to make the case for Iran action aren’t a sudden revelation with these leaks, though that’s what’s being talked about on the Right.
¶ A dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: Since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”
¶ Thinking about an eventual collapse of North Korea: American and South Korean officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. The South Koreans even considered commercial inducements to China, according to the American ambassador to Seoul. She told Washington in February that South Korean officials believe that the right business deals would “help salve” China’s “concerns about living with a reunified Korea” that is in a “benign alliance” with the United States.
¶ Bargaining to empty the Guantánamo Bay prison: When American diplomats pressed other countries to resettle detainees, they became reluctant players in a State Department version of “Let’s Make a Deal.” Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Obama, while the island nation of Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions of dollars to take in Chinese Muslim detainees, cables from diplomats recounted. The Americans, meanwhile, suggested that accepting more prisoners would be “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe.”
¶ Suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government: When Afghanistan’s vice president visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered that he was carrying $52 million in cash. With wry understatement, a cable from the American Embassy in Kabul called the money “a significant amount” that the official, Ahmed Zia Massoud, “was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” (Mr. Massoud denies taking any money out of Afghanistan.)
¶ A global computer hacking effort: China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing in January, one cable reported. The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. They have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002, cables said.
¶ Mixed records against terrorism: Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the American military for years, was the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December. Qatar’s security service was “hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals,” the cable said.
¶ An intriguing alliance: American diplomats in Rome reported in 2009 on what their Italian contacts described as an extraordinarily close relationship between Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian prime minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and business magnate, including “lavish gifts,” lucrative energy contracts and a “shadowy” Russian-speaking Italian go-between. They wrote that Mr. Berlusconi “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe. The diplomats also noted that while Mr. Putin enjoyed supremacy over all other public figures in Russia, he was undermined by an unmanageable bureaucracy that often ignored his edicts.
¶ Arms deliveries to militants: Cables describe the United States’ failing struggle to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has amassed a huge stockpile since its 2006 war with Israel. One week after President Bashar al-Assad promised a top State Department official that he would not send “new” arms to Hezbollah, the United States complained that it had information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the group.
¶ Clashes with Europe over human rights: American officials sharply warned Germany in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for Central Intelligence Agency officers involved in a bungled operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was mistakenly kidnapped and held for months in Afghanistan. A senior American diplomat told a German official “that our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the U.S.”
Pres. Obama is up against it politically right now, no doubt about it. His reelection map, with his support in the industrial Midwest wiped out, leaves him vulnerable in ’12, though no one should count him out. When Americans hear the Right saber rattling once again it will correctly make them revisit memories of Bush-Cheney and their disastrous foreign policy. But starting in the New Year the difficulty of Obama’s battle is immense compared to anything he’s ever faced before.
When you read about the leaked documents then think about a Republican in office, the possibilities on what could happen with a reflexive neoconservative in the White House should be a sobering thing to contemplate. If that person is a neophyte on foreign policy, which includes everyone running except Newt Gingrich, the dangers for this country jump exponentially. Just listen to the comments you’re hearing on Fox News, which is foreshadowing of more to come as the 2012 campaign on the Right revs up.